I accidentally cost you $470 last month, and so I owe each of you a $0.000000076.
I actually feel quite bad about this, but more in terms of the money lost and the inconvenience to the patient.
What happened, you ask? Well, I meant to order a lumbar spine CT scan. But due to a busy day and multitasking, accidentally wrote an order for a cervical spine CT. No one questioned it, and so it got done. I didn't realize the error until the report showed up on my desk. I apologized to the patient, and ordered the correct study.
The whole thing is overall harmless. The patient is elderly, and a few additional units of radiation are inconsequential. The 1 week delay in getting the proper test didn't have an adverse impact on his condition.
But still, I feel bad. I'm certainly not out to rip anyone off, especially other taxpayers.
This is, as far as I know, only the second error I've made in ordering the wrong imaging study in the last 10 years. I assume I have the same error rate as other docs for this sort of thing, and the total for mine is around $1100. Given that there are roughly 900,000 practitioners in the U.S., that comes out to $990 million dollars wasted every 10 years. That's enough to pay 20,000 school teachers for a year, or buy the Air Force eight F-35 fighters. Even by government standards it's still a decent chunk of change.
I don't have an easy answer for this. Should I be responsible? If a doc orders the wrong test, should he have to eat that cost? I guess that makes some sense, but someone is going to argue at some point that a test shouldn't be ordered. What happens if I did order a correct test, but then an insurance company claims it wasn't necessary - so should I pay for it?
Or what if the patient (after getting a test bill, of course) claims that I shouldn't have ordered a test, and wants me to pay for it? I've had that happen (I refused) and have learned it's common. I know another doctor who was threatened with a malpractice lawsuit to get her to pay for a study (she stood her ground, and they backed down).
So, I guess the only easy answer is to leave it as it is, and accept the fallible nature of humans. If ordering the wrong CT scan (at no harm to the patient) is the worst mistake I ever make in this business, I'll take it.